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Originally published August 23, 2013 at 1:49 PM | Page modified August 23, 2013 at 2:55 PM

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Fort Hood victims feel relief after guilty verdict

Moments after a military jury convicted Maj. Nidal Hasan of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Autumn Manning broke down in tears, overwhelmed by relief.

Associated Press

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Moments after a military jury convicted Maj. Nidal Hasan of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Autumn Manning broke down in tears, overwhelmed by relief.

"This is so emotional," Manning said Friday. Her husband, Shawn Manning, survived the Nov. 5, 2009, attack after Hasan shot him six times.

The Mannings had gotten married just weeks before the shooting. Shawn Manning was at Fort Hood that morning finalizing last-minute paperwork before being deployed to Afghanistan for a year. Autumn Manning was at work in Lacey, Wash., where they live, when she received the phone call that would change her life. It was her husband telling her he was in the hospital and had been shot.

Since the shooting, the Mannings have wrestled with a roller coaster of emotions, not only due to the trauma and medical issues faced after the attack, but also because of countless delays in the trial that made it feel like a never-ending wait for justice.

"I've just been crying since we heard it because it was a relief ... we just wanted to hear the premeditated," Autumn Manning said. Hasan now faces the death penalty, and the sentencing phase of the trial is set to begin Monday.

Kerry Cahill, the 31-year-old daughter of Michael Cahill who was shot and killed as he lifted a chair to try to try to stop Hasan, says the first thing she did when she heard the verdict was breathe.

"I can take a deep breath," she said. "It's like a door that just won't close and there's a crack and it's just not closing and now it's almost closed. We're just one step away from the door closing and moving on with our lives."

Neal Shur, an attorney representing some of the victims and their families in a lawsuit against the government, said the conviction is not a surprise because the "evidence was overwhelming."

"From the perspective of the victims ... they're glad that this phase is over because it had dragged on for so many years," Shur said.

Many victims will now turn their attention to another issue - a civil case that says the government should reclassify the attack as combat related, affording the victims and their families benefits they have not been eligible to receive because the shooting has been considered "workplace violence."

The benefits the victims seek range from added health care to the possibility of being awarded prestigious military medals for the courage some showed when Hasan fired into a crowd of unarmed soldiers and civilians.

Shur said the government should treat the survivors and the families of those who were killed with the same respect they've afforded Hasan, who received a fair trial and has been given top-notch medical care after he was paralyzed in a shootout with police officers that ended his rampage.

The survivors and the victims' families also plan to urge Congress to create a fund similar to one that exists for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. The money in the fund would help with medical care.

"It's really time for them to step up to the plate and show the soldiers that the army has their backs and won't leave them behind," Shur said. "The focus should be now on how we're going to help these people."

Howard Ray, a 33-year-old retired staff sergeant from Rochelle, Texas, encountered Hasan four years ago as he fled a building near the shooting. As he tried to get to cover, he ran almost directly into Hasan as he came around a corner. Hasan fired four or five shots - missing him and a woman he was assisting by inches, Ray said.

For about a year, he had nightmares and anxiety but has since dealt with his emotions by starting a firearms academy, convinced that if someone had been armed that day - other than Hasan - lives could have been saved.

"After four years of waiting, justice has been served," Ray said, adding the jury's verdict will "send a strong message that this military isn't going to mess with this kind of terrorism."

In the end though, Cahill said, none of it will bring back her father or any of the other people killed by Hasan.

"We still have to remember people," she said as she uploaded pictures of the victims onto a Facebook page.

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Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP

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